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Genealogical Writing: Selecting Type

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Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

Part of publishing compiled genealogies is selecting an appropriate font and typeface to use. Font and type selection can make the difference between a polished work and one that looks less clean and more amateur. Fortunately there are a few simple rules to follow in selecting your fonts that can make you shine like a star.


There are two major types of type. Serif fonts have small accents, called serifs, on the end of the strokes in the letters. Serif fonts are used for body text in printed works because the serifs help the eye to keep the traveling along the lines in long blocks of text.


Times and Times New Roman have been the default fonts in word processing programs for years. As such, they now have an amateurish look about them. Neither should be used in publishing your family history. There are a number of serif fonts that will make your work look much more professional. Garamond and Palatino, for example, are two fonts that are commonly used by the Newbury Street Press when publishing books.


Sans-serif type is more straight, and do not have the serifs on them. The name comes from the French “sans” which means “without.” Another term for this type style is Gothic, although this is now an outmoded term. Sans-Serif fonts are traditionally used for headlines instead of body text. Sans-serif fonts have also become the standard for electronic publishing (CDs, websites, etc.). Serif fonts do not display well on many computer monitors, and so are rarely used in electronic publishing. Arial was the default sans-serif font in word processing programs for many years, so again should be avoided in your publishing. Calibri is an excellent choice for a sans-serif font.


Emphasizing text should also be used sparingly. If everything is bold or italicized, nothing will stick out. And avoid italics in electronic publishing. It can be very difficult to read on computer monitors, especially on smaller monitors.


When selecting a font from your word processor or web page creation software, you will often be provided with a wide variety of choices. Remember that just because you have 100 fonts in your word processing software, it doesn’t mean that you should use them all in a single document. As a rule, try to choose a single serif font and a single sans-serif font for your work. Specialty fonts (that make your type look like the wild west, for example) should be used sparingly, if at all.


Smashing Magazine  published a helpful story in December 2010 entitled What Font Should I Use?”: Five Principles for Choosing and Using Typefaces

Posted by Michael Leclerc at 03/04/2011 02:47:24 PM | 

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